As Oklahoma faces a potential $1 billion deficit, we can no longer afford to keep spending $28.7 million each year to keep our neighbors not in homes, but rather homeless on the streets of Oklahoma City. That’s nearly $30 million spent annually on people who are still homeless, and often suffering from untreated mental illnesses, according to a 2010 report by Spangler and Associates, Inc.
The $28.7 million includes $9.5 million in shelter costs, $7.8 million in medical, mental health and substance abuse bills (emergency room, outpatient and inpatient beds), and $2.5 million for law enforcement and first-responder costs (EMS, fire department, police calls, arrests and jail costs).
As an Oklahoma City businessman who serves on multiple foundation boards, I have met experts in the field who stress that if we don’t help the approximately 500 Oklahoma City residents on the streets with special needs — including those with serious mental illness and addictions — they will continue to be at greater risk of cycling in and out of
hospitalizations, getting locked behind bars, or worse. This simply can no longer be the norm in our community.
Seeing the power of getting people off the streets and into housing, United Way of Central Oklahoma recently invested $1.2 million to support a collaboration between Mental Health Association Oklahoma and The Homeless Alliance, among other United Way agencies. The funding will help them implement Pathways, a specialty case management system that will get homeless people into housing and connect them to critical services in the community.